Fresh, ready or both?
Missouri Valley Conference schools are about to enjoy their longest break in two months, followed by, potentially, their busiest time. All 10 schools play Saturday and won’t resume until four play Thursday and the rest on Friday.
Everybody is tired at this time of the season and many players are slowed by bumps, bruises, sprains and strains. The end of February can be especially hard on freshmen, who aren’t used to the grind and lack the time to build up their bodies in the weight room.
Against that backdrop, coaches are preparing for the possibility of playing three games in three days in the conference tournament. For eight MVC teams, winning those games represents the only sure way into the NCAA Tournament. While nobody talks about it now, pumping up an NIT resume is also important for some programs.
“It’s been a fine line for me, and we’ve gone round and round about it with the staff of, ‘Hey, do we go harder and longer and make them tougher going into getting ready for the end of the year, or do we need rest?” Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said. “We’ve erred on the side of getting some rest. We’re doing shooting workouts with them. We’ve shortened up practice.”
Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson calls these the dog days of the schedule. As director of operations at Kansas, he helped liven things up by inserting movie clips into game video. He wanted to play dodgeball with his team, until he saw Kentucky coach John Calipari stole that idea.
“I think you’ve got to do everything you can possibly do to keep your guys focused and still have fun,” he said. “Whatever you can do to do that, whether it’s taking your team to a community service project, going to see a movie. You’re constantly having to motivate people.”
Practice plans change at this time of year. More film. More shooting. Fewer possessions and less contact, while still trying to keep the intensity high.
Bradley relies on three players who average 30 minutes or more. In MVC games, Walt Lemon Jr. (35.6 minutes) and Dyricus Simms-Edwards (34.7) rank third and fourth in the conference.
“How many trips up and down in practice can you do and then go out and play 38 minutes effectively?” Bradley coach Geno Ford said. “We’re going to have them here for two hours, but it’s not going to be physically draining.”
Around the Valley
In their words
“He’s always moving, but he’s never rushing around out there. He knows how to use screens, and he’s really good at putting defenders in tough spots. He’ll keep moving until you fall asleep for a second, and then it’s too late,” _ Creighton’s Grant Gibbs, on the difficulty of guarding Ryan, in the Omaha World-Herald.
One to watch